How the Pittsburgh Penguins might deal with the loss of Evgeni Malkin

To some extent, the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t been playing with the “real” Evgeni Malkin for about a season and a half. After winning the Art Ross Trophy with his league-leading 113 point season in 2008-09, Malkin’s been putting up relatively unimpressive numbers (77 points last season, 37 points in 43 games in 10-11).

In other words, it’s important to note that his health/game has been sliding for a while now. While Sidney Crosby’s concussions interrupted an astounding season abruptly, Geno’s injury seemed like the final straw rather than a sudden shocker.

That being said, it’s very possible that the 24-year-old Russian center would have found his rhythm over the next few months. The Penguins have played decent hockey with 80-percent Malkin, but what can they do without any Malkin whatsoever? Let’s study their options, some of which might bleed into each other.

Keep their feet on the accelerator

When we discussed Malkin’s struggles in January, one interesting theory surfaced: Penguins coach Dan Bylsma’s hard-charging, brawny style might not be a great fit for the Russian’s game. While Crosby’s willingness to go to “dirty goal” scoring areas fits well with this aggressive system, Malkin’s finesse game contrasts with that straight-forward mentality.

In the grand scheme of things, he will obviously be missed, but the Penguins can use the $8.7 million in cap space cleared by Malkin’s injury to lure some “rental” players to help fill some of the void (or at least bring that vision to fruition).

A healthy Crosby and Jordan Staal would present a solid one-two punch, so the Penguins don’t need to restrict their search to centers. Let’s glance at some pending free agents who might be worth a “rental.”

Sorting out potential trade targets of varying quality

(Click here if you want to do your own “scouting.”)

  • The Brad Richards dream: The Penguins would be one of the most interesting suitors in the very unlikely scenario of a Richards trade. The sublime passer’s cap hit is about $900K less than Malkin’s, so the trade could send monetary relief (plus draft picks and prospects) to Dallas for Richards. It’s still a long shot, though.
  • Square pegs in round holes: There are many fans in Pittsburgh who still hold a soft spot for enigmatic Russian Alex Kovalev, but he only really makes sense as a winger alongside Malkin. Jason Arnott is a slightly more realistic option, but he isn’t exactly a Swiss Army Knife of versatility either.
  • Right-handed shots would be a bonus: When the Penguins let Bill Guerin retire, they gave up their best right handed shot (at least among forwards). Two semi-interesting right handed snipers might become available: Michael Ryder and Milan Hejduk. Cap reasons would dictate Ryder’s move while Hejduk might become an option if the Avs slip out of playoff contention. Steve Sullivan, Teemu Selanne and Justin Williams would be even better options, but they are far less likely to be traded.
  • Two other interesting names: Speedy Sergei Samsonov and dirt-cheap playmaker Alex Tanguay could be interesting choices if the Penguins go for a buffet setup rather than one big splurge. Speaking of which:

Multiple moves?

Aside from that unlikely Richards scenario, the Penguins might try to mix and match players with some flaws rather than going for one big move. If any team can afford to give a player the Wade Redden treatment (stashing an expensive player in the minors if things don’t work out), it’s the deep-pocketed Penguins.

***

The Penguins have at least some hope without Malkin, even if there will be plenty of times in which his world-class skills will be missed. Their system might be more seamless in his absence, with role players taking on bigger responsibilities. Most of all, though, the $8.7 million in cap space should come in handy. GM Ray Shero’s use of that space could be one of the most captivating storylines of this year’s trade deadline.

Szabados backstops Canada’s women to 2-1 OT win vs U.S.

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Goaltender Shannon Szabados says the 2-1 overtime win Sunday against the United States ranks high on her list.

The 31-year-old made 34 saves in her hometown for the national women’s hockey team. Jennifer Wakefield scored the winner on a loose puck in the crease with 27 seconds remaining in overtime.

Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored a power-play goal with 2:45 remaining in the first period. Hilary Knight tied it for the U.S. with 5:58 left in the second on an assist from Kendall Coyne.

Szabados was the goalie for Olympic gold-medal victories against the U.S. in 2010 and 2014. She held Canada in the game on Sunday when her team was outshot 25-10 over the second and third periods.

”This is probably for sure in my top five,” said Szabados, who estimated she had about 300 friends and family in the stands. ”I feel like I’ve played in some pretty big games. This was pretty incredible.”

Maddie Rooney had 24 saves in the loss at the Rogers Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers, where the announced attendance was just short of a sellout at 17,468. It’s also shy of the record for a women’s hockey game set in Ottawa at 18,023 in 2013.

”We’re a highly skilled team and we need to make sure that we go out and play fast,” said U.S. coach Robb Stauber, whose team was outshot 5-2 in the first period. ”The goal for us is to be hitting on all cylinders in February.”

Canada wrapped up their six-game exhibition series with a 5-1 record against the Americans. The rivals won’t meet again until their pool game Feb. 15 at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

”These are great games for us to tune up against each other,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said. ”Obviously, it’s the best competition playing against them, we feel.”

How much the results in the pre-Olympic series will matter in February is debatable. Canada lost four in a row to the U.S. in exhibitions before earning gold in overtime at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Canada opens defense of its gold on Feb. 11 against Russia, which recently had six players banned by the International Olympic Committee for doping violations and had its sixth-place result in 2014 stripped.

The Americans won the inaugural women’s hockey event at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. The Canadians have won four straight gold medals since then, with the U.S teams finishing with three silver and a bronze.

The 23-player U.S. roster will be announced on Jan. 1.

Fight Video: Austrian League players drop the gloves before intermission interview

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Here’s something you don’t see every day.

A pair of Canadian players playing in the Austrian league dropped the gloves on Sunday. Okay, that’s not the crazy part. The timing of the fight is what makes this moment unique.

Right before the start of an intermission interview with Zagreb Medvescak’s Tom Zanoski, Chris DeSousa of Bolzano HC decided to crash the party.

Both players delivered a few shoves before the situation escalated in the hallway of the rink they were playing in. Eventually, players, staff and security intervened.

Both players received game-misconducts for the incident, while six other players received two-minute roughing penalties.

Stick-tap Aivis Kalnins

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Fantasy Adds & Drops: Flyin’ Fiala

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Every week, this column will aim to help guide you through the rough waters of your fantasy league’s waiver wire. We’ll tell you which players that are owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues you should consider picking up.

We’ll also try to help you cut ties with guys that don’t need to be owned right now.

If you have any specific fantasy hockey questions, feel free to write me an e-mail at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Here we go:

Adds:

Tyler Myers-D- Winnipeg Jets (49 percent)

Myers is right on the cusp of being owned in half of Yahoo’s leagues, but he technically still qualifies for the list. After missing most of last season, Myers has been solid for the Jets in 2017-18. He’s on pace to hit the double-digit mark in goals and he’s nearly on pace to score 40 points. Myers has also seen his ice time increase over the last couple of weeks.

Alex Stalock-G- Minnesota Wild (39 percent)

Finding a goalie on the waiver wire isn’t easy at this time of year, but the injury to Devan Dubnyk has made Stalock an intriguing fantasy addition. Dubnyk is considered “week-to-week” for now, so you know that Stalock will have a decent chance of making an impact on your lineup. He’s a solid short-term add.

J.T. Miller-C/LW/RW-New York Rangers (39 percent)

Miller has enjoyed a very successful run of late, as he’s picked up at least one point in nine of his last 12 contests. The Rangers forward has also scored in each of his team’s last two games. He has six goals on and 24 points in 33 games, which puts him on pace to score 60 points in 2017-18. The fact that he’s eligible to play all three forward positions in Yahoo leagues makes him even more of an interesting pick up.

[More Fantasy: RotoWorld’s Waiver Wired column]

Kevin Fiala-LW/RW- Nashville Predators (36 percent)

Fiala’s post-season came to an end prematurely last spring, as he fractured his left femur. After picking up just two points in his first eight games of this season, he’s really started producing of late. The Preds forward is currently riding a seven-game point streak. The 21-year-old is now on pace to score 60 points in 2017-18. He’s definitely worthy of an add in a good chunk of fantasy leagues.

Jakob Silfverberg-LW/RW- Anaheim Ducks (35 percent)

The Ducks forward missed five games because of an upper-body injury earlier this month, but he’s scored twice in three games since being back. Silfverberg got off to a slow start this year, but his team needs him to step up because of all the injuries they’ve gone through. Expect him to get a good amount of ice time going forward.

Drops:

Brent Seabrook-D- Chicago Blackhawks (61 percent)

It might be time for us to admit that Seabrook’s better days are behind him. The 32-year-old has scored one goal all season and he has just four assists in his last 14 games. Depending on the categories you’re playing, it could make plenty of sense to drop Seabrook for Myers.

[Check out the RotoWorld Hockey Podcast]

Anthony Mantha-LW/RW- Detroit Red Wings (54 percent)

It’s still a little too early to drop Mantha, but he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on. Even though he’s still on pace to surpass the 30-goal mark, Mantha hasn’t registered a point in six straight games. He also appears to be playing fewer minutes than he was earlier in the season.

Nino Niederreiter-LW/RW- Minnesota Wild (52 percent)

Niederreiter’s on pace to score a solid 28 goals this season, but his fantasy owners certainly don’t appreciate his recent stretch of one goal in 11 games. What’s even more concerning, is that he isn’t even shooting the puck as much lately. In his last three games, the Wild winger has just two shots on goal.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Devils prospect named captain of U.S World Junior squad

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Team Canada made their final cuts over the weekend for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championship in Buffalo. The roster is now set. (Hockey Canada)

• Despite what Eugene Melnyk has been saying, Bill Daly made it clear that the Sens aren’t going anywhere. (Ottawa Citizen)

• During Saturday’s NHL 100 Classic in Ottawa, the league announced their top moment in history. The honor went to Mario Lemieux’s unforgettable five-goal performance. (NHL.com)

• The Capitals came out with “Capitals Tunes: Volume 2”. If you’re a fan of good holiday music, you might not want to listen. (DC Puck Drop)

• Check out these stories from the NHL’s inaugural season which took place 100 years ago. (Sporting News)

• Joel Lundqvist isn’t as well known as his brother Henrik, but hockey has treated both of them pretty well. (Sportsnet)

Pekka Rinne is proud of the way Preds backup and fellow Finn Juuse Saros has performed. (Tennessean)

• There is no team that’s more Jekyll and Hyde than the Dallas Stars. (Black Out Dallas)

• Everybody loves a goalie fight, right? Well, there was one in the AHL this weekend as Pheonix Copley and Jordan Binnington dropped the gloves/blocker. (Chocolate Hockey)

• The Red Wings auctioned off “Al the Octopus” over the weekend. They managed to get $7,700 for it. (Detroit Free Press)

• Former NHLer Matt Johnson is missing, and a man from North Dakota went looking for him. (Grand Forks Herald)

• It’s not easy for the Tampa Bay Lightning to replace a “heart and soul” guy like Ryan Callahan. (Tampa Times)

• It took a little bit of time, but Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich‘s English has come a long way. (Sports Illustrated)

• Since returning from an injury in early December, things have been tough for Bruins winger Anders Bjork. (Bruins Daily)

• The Coyotes’ upcoming schedule is like a trip down memory lane for head coach Rick Tocchet. (Arizona Sports 98.7 FM)

• The Winnipeg Jets have star players that have helped carry them this season, but it’s the solid performances from unexpected contributors that has made the difference. (Fan Rag Sports)

• Sweden seems to have figured out the right way to develop their talented young hockey players. (Elite Prospects)

• Tough break for the San Jose Sharks, as they’ll be without Logan Couture (concussion) on Monday. (Mercury News)

• Devils prospect Joey Anderson was named captain of Team USA’s World Junior team. (USA Hockey)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.